Bruce wasn't, of course. Neither, for that matter, was Hayes, who was often surly and abusive. But Hayes worked mostly in ancient times, before a coach had to care about anything but his team. Plus, he was Woody. Bruce took the fall for all modern coaches who are now judged on a charisma scale, just like corporate executives and game show hosts.
Coach Cooper is no dummy. He knew he had gone about as far as he could at Arizona State. He wasn't thrilled about the St. Louis Cardinals moving to Phoenix to play in Sun Devil Stadium. "Any city that has an NFL team and a college team, the college team suffers," he says. And he wasn't nuts about Arizona's small population, which forced him to recruit on the West Coast. "I didn't know what to tell a kid in L.A.: 'Come for the weather'?"
But at Ohio State, as he says again and again, there is no competition. This is the only big-time state school in a football-crazy state. "We're not going to win because I'm a better coach than Earle Bruce; we'll win because of the program," he says. "Why should a kid ever leave this state?"
Cooper drives now to a 1½-acre, $150,000 wooded lot in Columbus where he will have his house built. This is his commitment to the program. It would be easier to buy an existing house, but he wants this one to be right because he plans on being around for a while. Helen, his wife of 31 years, will design the house, and his 20-year-old daughter, Cindy, who will be a sophomore at Ohio State, will live there, too. Cooper's son, John Jr., who works in real estate in Columbus, will stop by often. The whole family uprooted and came to Ohio to be with Dad. "You hire me, you hire my family," says Cooper proudly.
Cooper steps onto his property and looks around. A rabbit scurries away. A dove flies from a tree. Cooper says firmly, "Wherever you are, the bottom line is the same. Win. The pressure is the same, at Vanderbilt, at Northwestern, anywhere. Everybody has the same problems. But I don't dwell on it. You know what I always say? Better to aim at the sky and hit an eagle than to aim at an eagle and hit the ground." He does say that constantly; it's in almost every interview he's done. Like all coaches, he's got the clichés down pat. Another one slips out. "I wasn't born on third base," he says. "I bunted my way on, took second on a passed...."
A fat, furry animal trots across the meadow.
"What was that?" asks Cooper. "A wolverine?"
It was a groundhog, but there's no reason to tell him that. A symbol's a symbol, wherever you find it.
At dinner with his wife and Snapp at a local restaurant, Cooper thinks about an item of great importance to Buckeye fans—his '86 Rose Bowl win over Michigan. Michigan went ahead of Arizona State early, 15-3, but in the second half the Sun Devils dominated the game and won 22-15. "I didn't outcoach Bo," says Cooper. "I had a better team. I think the whole Pac-10 has more speed and better athletes than the Big Ten."
Cooper has a three-part plan to get the Buckeyes back on top: 1) recruit better players, particularly in-state; 2) red-shirt more freshmen, so more will play a fifth year ("Tom Tupa, Chris Spielman and Greg Rogan would all be back this year if they hadn't played as freshmen"); and 3) emphasize weight training. "Last year, only three players on the team could bench 400 pounds," he says. "At Arizona State we had at least a dozen."